How will history judge our chief executive?

September 12, 2019 08:00
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has to at least agree to discuss the remaining four demands of the protesters, says the author. Photo: Reuters

A new normal has descended on Hong Kong. Get used to it. If you think this new normal is just a passing nightmare about a free society morphing into an authoritarian one, please wake up. It’s no nightmare. It’s real.

In this new normal, numerous arrested anti-government protesters are hauled to a remote police detention center bordering mainland China. The San Uk Ling Holding Center in Sheung Shui has no security cameras. At least half a dozen protesters there had to be hospitalized with broken bones.

The police won’t allow justices of the peace (JPs) to visit the center. News reports said many detainees were forced to give statements without lawyers. Some lawyers have had to wait hours to see detainees. The police said the center only has limited consultations rooms.

How come a detention center built for hundreds has only limited consultations rooms? Is it in keeping with a free society to have a vast detention center off-limits to JPs, where some detainees give statements without lawyers, and where lawyers wait hours to see other detainees?

It is common nowadays for police to stop and search young people just for wearing black clothes. I have seen it myself. There are TV images aplenty of police forcing young people to kneel with their hands behind their backs. Even off-duty policemen will now be issued with extendable batons.

Police ordered the media out of an MTR station while they clubbed protesters. They ordered the media out of a bus while they interrogated and arrested young people wearing black. Yes, many of those in the MTR station and on the bus were protesters.

But how could the police differentiate between the violent and the peaceful ones? The police said the protesters were changing clothes to look like ordinary passengers. But changing clothes is not a crime, nor does it make them violent protesters.

Hong Kong, where I was born and bred, is no longer a place I recognize. About 1,300 mostly young people have so far been arrested in connection with the anti-government protests, many of them in their teens. Some are out on bail, others not.

They face months and years going through the court system. How many will end up in jail, I don’t know. One obstinate person alone is responsible for the ruining of so many young lives. That person is Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Whenever she opens her mouth these days, it’s to condemn violent protesters. Has she ever asked herself why so many young people are willing to brave rubber bullets, teargas, police batons, arrests, and jail?

Mainland propagandists claim it’s for free sex with young girls who provide comfort for those on the protest frontlines. Executive Councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun repeated that unproven claim on radio.

Are the propagandists too stupid to understand trying to discredit protesters this way could have the opposite effect? It could recruit even more young men to brave protest frontlines in the hope of sex in return.

I don’t know how many more young people Lam wants arrested. The apparent policy is to arrest as many as necessary to end the protests. If this really is the policy, it shows Lam has learned nothing from her disastrous extradition bill. You cannot arrest an entire generation of young people. The more you arrest, the more radicalized the others will become.

There’s only one possible way to end the protests. Our chief executive, who finally withdrew the extradition bill under unrelenting public pressure, now has to at least agree to discuss the remaining four demands of protesters. It’s true the protesters have said they won’t talk until all demands are met. I am sure some will talk if Lam walks back on rejecting the demands.

But she is powerless to do that. She claims she is still in charge. Most people know she isn’t. Our city is being run by Beijing and the mainland media. She has become subservient to them.

Hong Kong property tycoon Li Ka-shing told a private gathering this week those in power should show mercy to the young, whom he called the masters of our future, for breaking the law for a political cause. Wise words from a man once hailed as a superman for his rags-to riches fame, then vilified for putting profits above people, and now praised for subtly giving Beijing the middle finger.

Lam, a Catholic who once said she has a reserved spot in Heaven, indirectly rebuked Li by saying lawbreakers deserve no mercy. Maybe in these troubled times she has forsaken the Bible which says Jesus is merciful and forgiving.

Not too long ago she said some Hongkongers have no stake in our society. Two days ago she said she would not allow the United States to have a stake in the governance of Hong Kong. In addition to re-reading the Bible, maybe she should know what a stakeholder means.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is a proposed American law that complements the Hong Kong Policy Act, which grants special trade status to Hong Kong if it maintains its autonomy. That makes the US a stakeholder.

If Lam doesn’t like it, all she needs to do is tell the US she doesn’t want Hong Kong to be treated as a customs territory separate from mainland China. Dare she? I think not.

How will history judge Carrie Lam? I don’t know but I think it won’t be kindly. No one person has brought such misery to the city. Defiant Hongkongers booed the national anthem this week at a football match. Secondary school students joined hands across Hong Kong to support democracy. Over 1,300 young people have been arrested. Businesses are going under. The tourism industry is dead. All because she refused to listen to the people.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.